20 Ways to Jumpstart 2020

A new decade dawning. Does it feel newer than a regular old middle-of-the-decade new year? Probably not. But why not use it for what it is – a beginning — the start of a calendar year. And as good a time as any to think about how you can jumpstart your business.

 

Based on our combined 50+ years in business, we offer the following 20 ideas for making 2020 your best year yet:

  1. Focus on focusing. Don’t try and accomplish more than you can reasonably accomplish. Better to do a few things really well than a bunch of things half-assed.
  2. If you make a mistake, move on. If you’re lucky enough to be in business long enough, you’ll make lots. That’s how we learn!
  3. Surround yourself with smart people.
  4. LEARN from the smart people around you.
  5. Hire people with the skills you don’t have. So you can focus on what you do best.
  6. Learn to network. If you already know how, finesse your skills.
  7. Master a new skill. Or a few. Podcasting. Speaking gigs. Seminars. Blogging. All meant to increase your visibility and put you in front of new audiences (and potential clients).
  8. Ask for help. No one knows everything there is to know about an industry. Learn from people who know what you don’t.
  9. Think about mentoring someone. You will get back at least as much as you give.
  10. Take vacations. You need a business break now and then. Working a 7-day week will not make your business better. It WILL make you burn out faster.
  11. Volunteer. Get out of your own head and share your time to help others — local community organizations, homeless shelters, rescue organizations, foodbanks….the list is endless.
  12. Read. A lot. Not just business books but all kinds of books. The more you read, the better you write. And the easier it is to solve problems.
  13. Exercise. A little every day if you can. Not necessarily lifting weights or running. Walking works too. Anything that gets you up and moving and not thinking about work problems.
  14. Get more sleep. We’re not going to quote all the studies but you KNOW that you operate better on a decent night’s sleep.
  15. Take some risks. If you want to grow, you need to step out of that safe circle. There’d be no inventions if the inventors hadn’t decided to find a better way.
  16. Be pro-active. The last decade has seen far too many businesses suffer because new technology made their products or services obsolete (thanks, Amazon). Don’t ever get too comfortable.
  17. Treat your employees like the critical business assets they are. And if they’re not, let them go.
  18. If you don’t have a solid email program, stop wasting your database and make this the year you nurture your soft connections.
  19. If you’ve avoided social media (yep, we’ve seen companies that are still waiting to see if it works!), time to jump in. Be smart. Learn one platform well and then add others. Or hire someone who knows how to do it.
  20.  If your budget allows, bring in experts to do the things you can’t do, don’t want to do or need help with.

If you only implement a few of these 20 ideas, you’re bound to see some success.

And if you need help with anything web, digital or marketing-related, give us a call. We’re looking to grow your business too.

 

Leave a comment

Why your presentations suck and what to do about that.

people falling asleep in an office

Ever wonder how effective your PowerPoint presentations are? What if you discover that the format you’ve been using is all wrong?

Inc Magazine recently published an intriguing article by Geoffrey James claiming that PowerPoint is “worse than useless”.

It brings to mind a presentation I received several years ago when I was lining up speakers for some seminars I was leading. I didn’t know what to do when a speaker submitted a 50-page PowerPoint deck for her 30-minute slot. My eyes glazed over as I scanned through it. Most of it text and bullet points, not images.people falling asleep in an office

I could see heads nodding just thinking about it. We had the speaker condense it as much as we could, but it was not one of the highlights of the seminar.

Rather, the talk that received the best rating was one where the wifi went out a few minutes into it (every speaker’s nightmare). This speaker used extensive knowledge of his topic and a warm, engaging personality to capture everyone’s attention.

So how do you ensure that your presentation is well received? I present bullet points 2 and 9 in this smart article from Presentation Prep titled “10 Most Common Presentation Mistakes”. Supported by this quick read from Inc Magazine contributor Jessica Stillman titled “A TED Coach’s 5 Best Tips for PowerPoint Slides That Won’t Put Your Audience to Sleep.” #5 is particularly appealing.

If you’ve been using slides in your presentations and notice heads nodding, what can you do?

Think about the best presentations you’ve attended. They’re probably the ones you remember. What stands out in your mind? Pretty slides? Probably not.

I’m not suggesting that you never use slides. In some cases….like a talk on photography….. they can be used very effectively. But I am suggesting that you use them sparingly — as support for what you’re saying rather than something to read from. Blah blah blah……

The best presentations are those where the speaker knows how to engage her audience. The ones you leave thinking “that was terrific” or “I want to hear more from this person”. Followed by feeling you need to:

  • Visit their website
  • Follow them on social media
  • Set up a coffee date.

In other words, the best presentations are teasers. They leave you wanting more. They’re new business drivers — the best kind of marketing tools you can find.

Next time you’re preparing for a presentation, try these 7 tips:

  1. Focus on how you can engage your audience. This might depend on who you’re speaking to. Men respond differently than women. Professions and type of industry also impact your presentation style. If you’re speaking to a group of brain surgeons, your tone and demeanor will be much different than a talk to event planners or yoga instructors.
  2. See how quickly you can get their attention. Think about what your audience needs. What can you give them that will help them work better, smarter, faster?Some speakers start with a question or two asking exactly that. Statements like “did you know?” or “have you ever tried….?” or “you know how you feel when…..?” come to mind. Why? Because they speak to problems you’ve had or entice you with a better way to solve something that’s always driven you a bit crazy.
  3. Ask your audience to take notes. You don’t just want them to listen. You want them to participate. With paper and pen, not digitally. The brain/hand connection has been well documented. Studies suggest that “Writing by hand strengthens the learning process”.
  4. Be authentic and likeable. We’re generally more engaged when we feel that we like the person we’re listening to.
  5.  Use humor (assuming the topic isn’t a very serious one). Laughing or smiling warms up a room and helps people relax. When we’re relaxed, we’re more receptive to listening – even if we don’t necessarily agree with the person speaking.
  6. Use handouts.  Preferably have them on the seats or tables at the start of your talk. That way, the audience can get an idea of what you’re going to be talking about. And they can use the handout to take notes.You might also include a “how’d I do?” form for people to rate your presentation. That lets them know you give a damn and want them to come away having learned something new or at least thought provoking.
  7. Close with a thank you. And a call-to-action for next steps.
    For example:
  • Feel free to call, text, email me with any questions you may have
  •  Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram
  • Sign up for my newsletter, podcast, etc.

Try these tips as you prepare for your next presentation and we’re betting you’ll have an engaged and smiling audience.

Leave a comment

Are you wasting your time sending emails?

your email campaign was a bustYou’ve decided it’s time to do an email campaign. So you buy a list, craft what you believe to be a good email letter and send it out. But when you look at the stats, you’re less than thrilled. Minimal opens. A lousy click through rate. ZERO conversions. What happened?

Let’s look at some possibilities:

  1. The list you purchased is ineffective.
  2. Your subject line is….yawn…..boring. Delete. Delete. Delete.
  3. You buried the lead. Get to the point before the reader drags your message to the trash.
  4. The tone of your letter is too formal.
  5. The tone of your letter is too casual.
  6. You missed some typos.
  7. There’s no call to action.

Any of these seem relevant? If so, here’s what you can do so your next email campaign isn’t a bust.

  • Save your moneyAccording to Hubspot, good email lists aren’t for sale. They suggest creating your own email list (we heartily agree) and this article gives you some good tips on how to do that.
  • Come up with subject lines that beg to be opened.  Pay attention to the emails you open. What are the subject lines that you simply must click on? That’s what you’re aiming for.

If you’re not a good writer, hire a copywriter. Your subject line should be enticing. It should either speak directly to your target market’s pain point or be clever enough that a prospect is curious to read more.   

For example:
Are cash flow worries keeping you up at night?
Do you know why your competitors are stealing away your clients?
3 things potential customers want that your company isn’t providing

  • Don’t waste a reader’s time. Everyone’s busy. Get to the point quickly. And make it easy to read by writing short paragraphs and breaking content up with subheads. Think of what you can do so the recipient can easily scan the entire letter. That increases the chances of being read.
  • Lose the formal language and infuse some warmth into your copy. The beauty of emails is that they are efficient direct marketing tools. You are speaking one-to-one with the reader. Actually, “you’re speaking one-to-one” is appropriate. It’s the perfect opportunity to write as though you were speaking face-to-face. 
  • Don’t be overly casual. Here’s an exception to the bullet above.  If the email is going to a recipient in a market where casual language is inappropriate (i.e. the FBI or legal entities), your copy should be straightforward. But not stuffy. You can still be human in your writing.
  • Make sure there are no typos. Typos are sloppy. They make an immediate bad impression. That’s why smart job seekers have multiple people review their resumes. It’s not just spelling errors, or the wrong word (e.g., “their / they’re / there”) but punctuation mistakes as well.

We make sure that three sets of eyes proof copy before anything goes out or gets published. Even then, we’ve had a few instances where we missed something. Believe me, you’ll be more careful the next time.

  • Call-to-action. If you’ve done a good job and your email gets read, be sure to lead the recipient to the next step.  Add a call-to-action so she knows what you want her to do. Or a “this is what we will do next”.

For example:

Let me know which of these dates/times work best for you to talk.
Which of our 3 free whitepapers would you like me to send you?
I’ll give you a call next week to set up a meeting.

I’ll add a few more tips:

  • Make sure your email speaks to the needs/wants/hopes of the recipient. That requires truly understanding their pain point.
  • Include backup. Use testimonials from happy clients to support your claims about how you can help this prospect.
  • Use color, white space and/or a graphic to make emails more visually appealing. Big chunks of copy are intimidating which means they probably won’t get read.

Who said email campaigns were easy?

Email campaigns can be challenging to pull off.  A 2018 Mailchimp survey showed the average email open rate was less than 21%. This was across the board for all industries they looked at.

That’s a whole lot of wasted effort as far as we’re concerned.  Our average open rate is 32%. That’s well above the average but we’re still aiming for higher.

Call us if your emails aren’t getting opened. We’d love to help you!  

.

 

 

Leave a comment

4 Top Tips to Better Content

Today’s small business owner faces a big challenge. Digital noise surrounds us online — offers, freebies, surveys, endless articles. Getting your content read is more and more difficult. What can you do to make sure people see and share your content?

Here are 4 easy tips to make that happen:

  1. Focus on the benefit. How does your company help your target market? Think about the problem your products or services solve. Then tell visitors to your site exactly how that works. Don’t assume they’ll “figure it out” by reading your copy all the way through. That’s a crap shoot. In a noisy online world, you need to cut to the chase and tell people exactly what you want them to know.
  2. Identify your target market. Far too often we see business owners with wildly disparate target markets. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. The tighter you can define your market, the more you become a specialist. If you break your arm, would you want your internist to operate on you? Hell no! The same goes for selling your products and/or services. Focus on a particular segment of the market and target your copy to reach that segment in language they can relate to.
  3. Make it easy (or better yet, fun) for visitors to absorb your content. Is your product one that can be marketed with humor? Create a short clever video to get your point across. Or use images that convey humor. Cute fuzzy animals always seem to engage people. Cartoons haven’t been overused yet so that’s another option. If you offer services for a serious issue, like one that’s health-related, present content that’s easy to understand. Charts, infographics, copy with clear steps or bullet points and explainer videos are all good ways to share important or sensitive information.
  4. Make it easy for visitors to share your content. If you’ve succeeded in bullet point 3, this should be a piece of cake. People share what they think others in their world will like — content that’s interesting, amusing, informative, exciting or unusual. But be sure to tell your visitors to share your content. Share icons are important but saying “be sure to share this” or “don’t forget to share this with your friends” is just smart!

Your website may rank high in search, but if visitors aren’t engaged once they land there, you’ve got a lousy site. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.

Need help with your content? Work with us.

Leave a comment

when startups fail

Jumping on the startup bandwagon is not for everyone. It’s certainly not for the risk-averse. Because starting a business is a bad idea if you’re not able to accept failure.

It’s also not for someone who can’t develop or follow a plan. Startups need structure. Processes and procedures don’t just happen. They need to be created and implemented.

According to Small Business Trends, “A bit more than 50 percent of small businesses fail in the first four years”.”

girl's hands typing on a laptop
surviving your startup

Actually, we thought the number was higher. Maybe because we’ve been doing this long enough that we’ve seen more than a few startups fail.

Sometimes you know upfront.

You get an inkling that something’s off. Often it starts with a whirlwind of excitement and big plans. Really big over-the-top plans that seem wildly optimistic.

Now we have nothing against excitement and having a positive attitude is hugely important. But so are plans – especially when you’re starting a new business. And if the plans aren’t based in reality, you’re looking for trouble.

That was the scenario a few years ago when we were hired to build a website for a new music and light dining venue. The concept looked good on paper. A sophisticated, casual night spot in an area that could easily support this kind of entertainment. The client was over-the-moon-excited. She was commissioning pricey artwork and spending freely on interior design. The excitement was contagious and we were all looking forward to the opening.

Then reality kicked in. And we realized that under all the glam and excitement was…..well, nothing. No business plan. No marketing plan. No roadmap on how this business was going to run. They couldn’t find a decent chef because they hadn’t allocated enough money for one — unacceptable in an area where people expect top quality food.

A few months into the launch of this project and the red flags we’d noticed were looking bigger and bigger. One thing after another went wrong until we realized there was no way this venture was going to fly.

In hopes of helping save other startups, here is what went wrong for our client and the six warning signs you need to heed if you’re launching a new business:

Six Red Flags

  1. Ignoring the competition
    Our music venue client disregarded a successful venue down the street because it was really a restaurant. But they did have music one night a week.  Fast forward a few months, the competitor’s weekly music night was drawing crowds. Because they had terrific food and longstanding customers. Never underestimate the value of customer loyalty. And always understand the competition.
  2.  Failing to prioritize
    Rather than allocating marketing dollars to communication tools to let people know they were opening and build some buzz, the venue owner spent money on all sorts of pricey premiums and custom artwork. Social media was minimal. PR was non-existent. Huge oversight! We still have some of those premiums — they lasted far longer than the club.
  3. Skimping on the essentials
    Serving food? Better make damn sure it’s good. Saving money by hiring inexperienced (or poor) chefs will be your demise. That’s what happened to our client.
  4. Not listening to the experts you’ve hired
    Savvy entrepreneurs know they can’t do it all. That’s why they hire professionals to handle what they can’t. If you’re paying someone to help you build your business, listen to their advice. Otherwise, save the money and do it yourself. It’ll be less of a loss when you shut down.
  5. Not listening to your customers
    If one table sends back food with a complaint that it’s cold, that’s easily fixable. If more than one table has the same complaint, pay attention. You’ve got a problem in the kitchen. Ignore the problems and you’re never going to make it.
  6. Falling in love with your product or service
    The A#1 mistake our client made was falling blindly in love with her venture. She was so convinced that this was going to be a success that she did little due diligence. And once things started to fail, she ignored the warning signs.

As entrepreneurs, we’re passionate about entrepreneurship. We like to see others succeed. And we love being involved in success stories. Building a website for a company that didn’t even last a year made us feel pretty bad. Especially since we loved the website!

Because we give a damn, there’ve been times we’ve suggested that a potential client pull back instead of moving forward with a new website. Rather than see a startup fail, we’ve suggested that they go back to the planning table and rethink what they’re trying to do. Once all the pieces are in place, we’re happy to build their website.

Lest we discourage anyone who’s eager to start a business, here’s an article from Inc magazine on 15 reason why it’s a good idea to start a business.

If you’ve got a clear plan and aren’t afraid of making mistakes (they’re part of the learning process), go for it.

Leave a comment

How mindful is your marketing?

Aware. Engaged. In the moment. All words and phrases affiliated with mindfulness. It’s all about a sense of “now”. No distracting thoughts about the future or the past. Just here and now and present and in the moment.

mindfulness can make your marketing more effective

Since mindfulness is good for the soul (thank you, HuffPo), we figured it must be good for other things as well. Like marketing.

A stretch, perhaps? Not if you think of it in terms of benefits — in this case, success.

If you were to apply the same techniques to marketing that you do to mindfulness, here’s what you might expect:

  • Improved focus.
    In this case, getting right to the point of what you want your marketing to accomplish. Honing in on the benefits your service provides, the problems your product fixes, the positive results of working with your company.
  • Less stress.
    We all know people who seem to live in a constant state of stress. They complain a lot, probably have high blood pressure and never dial down and relax. I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound appealing. When your mind is racing, it’s hard to think clearly. Using mindfulness can help you slow down, allowing you to be more creative and making you more receptive to new ideas. New ideas can drive your marketing in fresh, distinctive ways.
  • Clarity of message.
    The clearer you are about what makes your product or service unique, the clearer your marketing message. We’re all overprogrammed and far too busy. The simplest messages have the best chance of breaking through the clutter. It’s the old KISS adage: Keep it simple, Stupid.
  • The beauty of balance.
    Mindfulness helps you get in touch with you feelings, your mind and your body. Why not apply it to making sure your business is healthy? Sort of a checks and balance tune-up. Doing an assessment of how your business is performing should be done regularly, long before the balance sheet looks bad. If the numbers aren’t where you need them to be, use the results of your assessment to create and drive new marketing messages.
  • Thoughtful decision making.
    At one time or another, we all make bad decisions. The more mindful we are, the less chance there is of this happening. When we slow down enough to look at all sides of an argument, we make better choices.
  • Learning to nurture.
    Mindfulness teaches us to find inner peace. Taking the time to think about what’s important in our lives is a nurturing first step. Incorporating that into our lives takes work. The same is true for your business. A successful business requires nurturing if it is to stay successful. Staying on top of the competition. Responding to your audience and your clients in a timely fashion. Keeping up-to-date on the technology that drives or supports your business. Hiring the best employees you can find, then keeping them happy.
  • Gratitude.
    If you’re a business owner who’s doing well, that’s certainly something to be grateful for. Share that gratitude. Let customers know you appreciate their business. Tell them – in correspondence, on social media, in content development, in every touch point with your company.

Be mindful about customer relationships and they’ll continue to do business with you. After all, who doesn’t like doing business with people we trust and like?

Leave a comment

Is your website marketing-driven or driving visitors away?

A website is a marketing tool.

Probably one of the priciest in your communications arsenal aside from digital advertising. But digital advertising…..and any other marketing you do….is directed at sending potential new business to your website where, hopefully, you’ll either intrigue the visitor to learn more or make a sale.

What’s your goal for your new website?
This is one of the first questions we ask when working with a new client. Another is: how do you envision this site will build your business? And more importantly, have your figured out how your business will solve a problem for potential customers?

Before we write a single line of code, we need to answer these questions. As specifically as possible.

If you haven’t established clear goals for your website and identified your target market’s pain point, good luck creating content that converts.

You need a better mousetrap.
Let’s suppose you’re a startup. You’ve designed a new and better product than what’s currently on the market. How are you going to convince potential customers that your product really IS better? What are you going to say?

A few things to consider first:

  • Is your marketing plan complete?
  • Do you know who your competition is, what their price points are and where they sell?
  • Do you know their USP (unique selling proposition) – what makes them different and better than the rest of the players?
  • Have you defined your USP? Why should buyers consider your product? How will it solve a problem for your (potential) customer?
  • Do you have a budget?
  • Have you allocated that budget across all your marketing tools? The ones that will help drive business to your website?

You can see where we’re heading. These are important questions that your web development team should ask at your first planning meeting. If they don’t, you may not be happy with the end result.

Developing a website doesn’t happen in a vacuum. A marketing-driven website…the kind you want….is informed by a marketing strategy.

make it easy for visitors to find what they're looking for on your website.
Make it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for.

A successful website does far more than look good.

Just looking good won’t cut it. A successful website has to hit all the bullets on your to-do list. And on ours.

A few of those “musts”. Your website has to:

  • be a spot-on representation of your brand
  • be visually appealing
  • speak in your brand voice
  • engage the visitor
  • immediately address your visitor’s problem, need or pain point
  • be very easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for (UX or user-friendly)
  • speak in authentic and conversational language.

Is your company website marketing-driven and engaging visitors…or driving visitors away?

If you’re not sure, here’s a really good article we found on Harvard Business Review by Mark Bonchek and Vivek Bapat on why you should focus on potential buyers.

It’s well worth your time to read.  Then, if you need help, call us. We’re happy to talk about how we can help you.

Leave a comment

Time management tips to make you more productive.

Some people are naturally efficient when it comes to time management. Engineers come to mind. They think logically and linearly.

Our team is heavy on creatives, and creativity and efficiency do not necessarily play well together.

Our thinking processes tend to lean towards wandering. So, if we’re having a company meeting, a finite agenda keeps us on track. Pretty much.how to save time

We HAVE found some tools that help us work more efficiently. Some of you might find them valuable, so we thought we’d share them.

Facilitating Communications
Our hands-down favorite tool is a tool called Slack. After dealing poorly with unwieldly email threads, we (ok, Steve) discovered this super well-designed communications tool, and we all love it.

Slack lets you organize internal conversations into channels – by project, client or topic. You can create private channels (we use these for proprietary client work) or have open channels if you want to add someone to a particular project – handy if you subcontract people to work on specific jobs but don’t want to give them access to all your channels.

You can search, comment, direct message one another and easily add files, documents, videos and images by a quick drag & drop. It also allows you to share documents from Dropbox and Google Docs, and make voice or video calls from within Slack.

One of the best features allows you to get an alert as soon as someone comments or adds an update in one of your channels. We find this super useful when we’re brainstorming, working on proposals, designing and building new websites, preparing seminars, or need a quick answer from one another. It allows us to work remotely in real time. And no more checking inboxes multiple times throughout the day.

Other than the occasional wandering off topic (hey, we said we’re creatives), Slack keeps us focused while saving at least an hour a day that was formerly spent on email.

Reference Repository
Creatives tend to find lots of material to help them be more creative. Interesting design ideas. Unusual color palettes. “How to” articles. Research for upcoming blog posts. Keeping all that information organized can be challenging. Eventually all the bookmarks you save end up being deleted rather than referenced.

Enter iCyte. iCyte is a web research management tool that lets you save web pages and pdfs with all elements, including links, intact. You can also highlight content of particular interest allowing you to quickly find important elements.

Save cytes under topics you create — we like to set up projects by client or type of reference material. You can also add tags for easy searching and any notes you might want to keep. When you’re ready to retrieve pages you’ve cyted, simply go to the iCyte dashboard to easily find what you’re looking for. You can also share cytes with colleagues, clients or friends.

Streamlining Social Media
Organizing material you want to share on social media can be very time-consuming. Especially if you use multiple social media channels.

We currently limit our WAGW social media to Twitter and Facebook, a schedule that’s pretty easy to manage. But one of us uses multiple social media tools, adding LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest to the mix. She recommends Buffer for managing and scheduling tweets and posts and tracking analytics. It’s easy to use and reliable.

If you’ve been struggling with time management issues, we hope these tips can help. And if you’ve found any tools that you love, please let us know and maybe we’ll share them in an upcoming post.

Leave a comment